Do you want to be certain or do you want to be right?
Is Brexit a ridiculous act of national self-harming or an historic decision to “take back control” and release £350 million every week to our NHS?
It’s likely that you have a position on this. Probable that your position is pretty (to coin a phrase) “strong and stable”. But what if…what if…facts come out that challenge your certainty? What do you do?
We all like to think of ourselves as consistent; that we base our knowledge on facts. What do we do when the facts don’t bend to our “knowledge”? Well of course we could do what many of us think we’d do. We simply alter our knowledge and become more enlightened still. Yeah right!
When pesky facts and evidence contradict our deeply held beliefs…sorry, “knowledge” we experience “cognitive dissonance”. This is when we experience conflicting states within us. We have a fact from a reliable source but we also want to continue believing the belief we have invested in. This contradiction or “dissonance” we find intolerable, so we have developed crafty techniques to soothe our troubled minds.
We convince ourselves that the new facts are from a “biased source” or “fake news” so we can readily discount them. Or we can seek out viewpoints that confirm our belief and accept them eagerly and uncritically – Facebook is great for this. (People who believe the same as us are of course, “telling the truth”, “intelligent” or “telling it like it is”).
As our position becomes more and more “bunkered in” and unreachable those others who believe differently become the enemy. The cult member who sees conspiracy everywhere outside of the cult, the religious fundamentalist who sees non-believers as infidels or the British voter that sees “remainers” as unpatriotic or “Brexiteers” as ignorant racists.
We can catch ourselves doing this. When you next read a fact that contradicts your beliefs, pause and ask yourself, “do I won’t to be certain or do I want to be right”? We fool ourselves when we think we can be both. But then again, we’re great at fooling ourselves, aren’t we?